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06.07.2005 Feature Article

The JSS Educational System is failing our children

The JSS Educational System is failing our children
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This year Ghana presented 287,341 candidates made up of 158,038 boys and 129,303 girls for the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) to prepare them for admission into senior secondary, technical and vocational schools in the 2005/2006 academic year. Statistics have recently revealed that only 40% of these JSS pupils who sit for this Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) get the opportunity to go to senior secondary school, leaving the 60% to walk the streets of Ghana with practically nothing to do. Professor Ekumfi Ameyaw, the former Education Minister also alluded to this fact when he was opening $20m Vocational Technical Resource Centre (VOTEC) at Twene Amanfo Secondary Technical School in Sunyani.

This is a sad case of irresponsible education planning based on some concept of meritocracy which has no basis on the principle of social justice and equality. Never mind what appears to be the diction of a young, angry socialist writer. I am neither of those but a system that caters for few and leaves the rest in limbo appears to me to be the very hate post of the socialists who ruled Ghana when the JSS concept was introduced. Something went wrong in their thinking then.

Let me state the bear facts: Ghana has 7105 JSS and this year presented 268,284 candidates for the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE). These children on average are aged 13. The BECE is a "terminal" examination which means it has an element of finality to its character. The safety net for the 60% stragglers leaks and the massive investment injection by the government to find vocations for them seems to be a non starter. Why eliminate them form the race in the first place before you think of giving them another head start?

Historically we had the Middle School leaving Examination which pupils who were on average 15 years old sat every year. It did not qualify pupils for anything but merely evidenced the fact that one had completed basic education. This kind of education was non-vocational. It was a legacy of old British education which, according to the government at the time was making our school leavers unemployable and too young to be left behind.

The fortunate ones like maybe you and I managed to fall on the meritocratic Common Entrance Examination that propelled us on to secondary schools and on an average of 18 to 20 years one could go on to the sixth form or university. At 18, any one who dropped out of secondary had reached the age of majority, was reasonably well educated to enter the administrative band of the civil service or old enough to travel abroad to earn a living.

The JSS system was therefore introduced to revolutionalise education (after all the buzz word then was “revolution”) and ensured that no child was left behind with just basic education. The MSLC left out a huge chunk of pupils whose parent were not affluent enough to support them into secondary education. There were no compensatory mechanisms in the education system to support those who left school at 15 with basic education. The terminal examination of MSLC was therefore, and quite rightly so, abolished.

The JSS system was aimed at introducing total education for all, 100% basic secondary education for children. Only the cynics were critical of this mass education at the time. After all if there has been a common thread to any policies of all Ghanaian governments, it is our desire to see to total education for our children.

The basic flaw in the JSS system, it seems to me, is its watertight compartmentalization from the SSS system. There is now a dual secondary system. The JSS system effectively ends at the average age of 13 with a terminal examination, the BECE. It is a system of a high hurdle which 60% of pupils are tripping and falling and being left behind. At 13 these children are minors, not old enough to be employed and yet the system says they are old enough to leave school. The bleakness of the situation comes from the fact that some schools like Bima Local Authority JSS in Ejura Sekydumasi scored 0% in 2001 and 2002 academic years not to mention Ofoasi-Kokobin JSS which sometimes will not receive the test papers in time to even stake their chance.

A system that is leaving nearly two-thirds of its customers behind cannot be said to be flawless. I am not agitating for it to be abolished, far from that. There is no doubt that there should be some form of assessment midway in their secondary school education, maybe a way of helping students select areas of subject to concentrate on in their SSSCE. The BECE should therefore serve that purpose instead of being a stand-alone terminal examination. In UK the Key Stage three (KS3) SATs is a way of screening pupils at the age of 14 for subject selection for the GCSE and that is what the BECE should become and not force 60% of pupils out into the streets at the age of 13. my frustration with this system became exasperated in my experience with a little girl at Anyinam railway crossing who was selling groundnuts. When I asked her why she was not in school she politely said “Papa I have finished school”. She could barely reach inside my car and yet old enough for the system to agree to that assertion.

The government in 2003 introduced a programme of upgrade for some secondary schools into schools of excellence. This upgrade does nothing to enhance the education of the many that we are envisaging; instead it is going to dig us deeper into the same quagmire. Mathematically, only 10% of the fortunate 40% who clear the high hurdle from JSS to SSS will benefit from these “upgraded” schools. The remaining 90% will stay in “mushroom” senior secondary schools with no chance of university education. The error here is similar to the much hated two-tier education system created in the UK after World War 11 - the secondary modern and the grammar schools - which were eventually abolished in favour of the comprehensive secondary school system.

The money which is going into in this so called upgraded schools and the millions used in organizing the BECE should go into making an effective one-tier secondary system with an enhanced curriculum which emphasises on vocationalism and business education, instead of the traditional arts and science education.

The junior and secondary system is a good system because it was intended to create equal opportunities for all pupils irrespective of their social and economic background, but its implementation has lacked vision and it is turning out child-adults at 13 years old into the dog chain trade. How sad. The finality of the BECE must end and the sooner the NPP government did that the better. Kwesi Atta-Krufi Hayford London Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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